Golf Course Management

JUN 2018

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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32 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 06.18 When Jay Randolph, CGCS, became su- perintendent at Ben Geren Golf Course, a public 27-hole facility in Fort Smith, Ark., in 2016, he realized he lacked sufficient staffing to maintain the 311-acre course. e 22-year GCSAA member took this challenge as an opportunity to save on labor and input costs through embracing the Natu - ral State's natural beauty. Ben Geren GC, which the facility's website calls a "mix of woods and water with excep - tional bermudagrass fairways and undulating bentgrass greens," contains four areas of "rem - nants" of the Massard Prairie that once covered more than 10,000 acres in western Arkansas with native grasses such as big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass and Indiangrass. While less than 1 percent of native tall - grass prairie endures, the four remnant areas total 40 acres of rough at Ben Geren. Ran - dolph saw going back to the course's prairie roots as the answer to his maintenance issues and an eco-friendly, sustainable course man - agement plan. "ese areas were mowed in the past with a bush hog a couple times per year," he says. "Now, we let them grow out." Randolph and his brother, Christopher Randolph, CGCS, a 22-year GCSAA mem - ber and superintendent at e Trails in Nor- man, Okla., went to Prairie Dunes Country Club outside Hutchinson, Kan., to get some ideas for their golf course to play up its prai - rie roots. Jay wanted to use local grass seed, and not a lot proved to be available. He reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Arkan - sas Game and Fish Commission to build rela- tionships for support in the restoration project. e commission's Acres for Wildlife program provides technical assistance, seed and herbi - cides to help restore native vegetation. "Lots of professors and restoration profes - sionals from around the country have given us advice on the restoration and reconstruction work," he says. Randolph says there are about 200 acres of Massard Prairie left across the region, so he got permission to collect grass seed from those sites for seeding at Ben Geren. In addition to the remnant areas, Ran - dolph says there are a little more than 80 acres at the course undergoing reconstruction, where bermudagrass is being replaced with na - tive grasses and wildflowers. In these areas, the maintenance crew applies herbicide and con - ducts prescribed burning to eradicate invasive plants — such as Japanese honeysuckle, seri - cea lespedeza and tall fescue — before seed- ing native grasses and wildflowers. e course will sport roughly 100 acres of native remnant restoration plus reconstruction areas when the project concludes next year. Randolph has coordinated with the golf pro in marking reconstruction areas with red spray and seeing whether golfers tended to hit shots into the proposed areas. "e pro shop did a great job communicating what the red areas signified to golfers before and after their rounds," he said. "If they hit their ball in the red dye a lot, we had proposed native areas in the wrong place. We did end up adjusting a few areas." Last year, Ben Geren remnant areas pro - vided the Audubon Arkansas NATIVE (Na- tive Agriculture To InVigorate Ecosystems) Project with wildflower seeds for prairie blaz - ingstar, rough blazingstar, ashy sunflower, rat- tlesnake-master and compass plant, Randolph says. Collected seeds were sent to Roundstone Going native in the rough (environment) Fred Wilkinson fwilkinson@gcsaa.org Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith, Ark., will sport roughly 100 acres of native grasses and wildflowers when its prairie restoration project concludes next year. Photo by Jay Randolph Native Seed LLC for cleaning and sorting. e seed is then given to low-income farmers to grow for seed harvest. e NATIVE proj - ect aims to have enough seedstock for future restorations using Arkansas native seeds, Ran - dolph says. "We are very proud to be part of this ongo - ing, important work," he says. e native grassland restoration has opened up the course, which is part of Ben Geren Park, to multiuse recreational activities. A trail cut through remnant areas allows na - ture walkers, bird watchers and photographers an up-close look at native plants and the wild - life it attracts. ree types of milkweed at the course are a big draw for pollinators, such as monarch but - terflies, Randolph says. e project also cre- ates a habitat for the rattlesnake-master borer moth, which the EPA has judged to be at risk. e moth is named for its reliance on the prai - rie plant, which is its only food source. Two coveys of bobwhite quail — a species that has disappeared from much of its range, according to the National Audubon Society — have established a presence at Ben Geren. "ere was not a single one on the golf course before the project," Randolph says. Randolph gave a presentation about the Ben Geren prairie project at a GCSA of Ar - kansas meeting in March. He says a handful of superintendents are talking with the Ar - kansas Game and Fish Commission about in- creasing native habitat on their own courses and taking on possible prairie restorations. Fred Wilkinson is GCM 's managing editor.

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